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The man at the computer wins on her account in what couldn’t be more than 40 seconds.

“It would have been faster,” he says, “if my hands weren’t so cold.”

She stares, noticing the hint of snow still caught in his coat despite the warm and cheerful atmosphere Happy Café is always circulating.

“And if your magic receptor were calibrated properly,” he continues. “Is that normal here, or is this one malfunctioning? I could fix it for you, boss.”

 

To be fair to her Happy Café, nobody calibrates magic receptors—with so many different styles of guests, there’s no point to the expense, not like the atmospheric circulator she installed to improve mood and make patrons more likely to stay just that little bit longer, just long enough to consider buying another session. Business is always better in a good mood.

“I asked if it was normal first!” he tries to justify.

A warmth of contentment blows over her from a fan.

For the first time, she thinks the atmospheric addition may have been a mistake, because she lets the infuriating man stay.

 

Ye Xiu plays cleanly, magic at his fingertips fast and precise as he flicks out spells between key presses like it’s normal, like it’s nothing.

“Glory is not so simple,” he tells Tang Rou, who’s staring at her own fingers like she’s never seen them before. “And neither is your attribute.”

A girl drifting along, trying and failing to find something that would let her grow, finally feels a fire light within her.

If her attribute isn’t basic speed, then what? If she finds it, can she raise herself higher?

Can she catch up?

 

Su Mucheng’s tea is always infused with energy and focus, perfected over years of effort to help with long nights of gaming. The drinks Su Mucheng brings were the highlight of Ye Xiu’s night, once she got good enough that he and Su Muqiu didn’t have to choke them down just to avoid waste.

Tang Rou drinks her tea behind him; Ye Xiu doesn’t bother to get any for himself.

 

Defeat after defeat, Tang Rou rises again stronger. Oh, she thinks, as her character falls and the flame reignites.

A phoenix.

 

God Ye Qiu remembers Qiao Yifan, tells him to try out a Ghostblade like the fit of his class is worth even a single thought.

“I don’t have an ability like that,” he admits, somewhat ashamed to so immediately reject the god’s advice, but there’s nothing to be done: Ghostblades require the most outside input of any class, and qualities that just can’t be faked—not least of which being the love of the departed.

There’s a pause, and then: “Kid, is there a reason you’re ignoring your ghosts?”

Qiao Yifan startles so hard he falls off his chair.

It turns out, those family members already passed had a little more love left for him than he’d thought.

 

“My domain is games and trickery, what do you expect?” Ye Xiu tells his brother.

“My domain is evasion, but you don’t see me weaseling out of this,” he replies sharply.

Ye Xiu grins, more infuriating than mischievous. “That’s because you’re bad at it. You’d run in two seconds if you could.”

Ye Qiu looks affronted, but instead of telling him off or denying it: “It is in my nature,” he seethes.

Chen Guo recognizes “domain” means the Ye family is either angel or demon related, but looking at the two, she really can’t say which. In the end, she doesn’t ask.

 

Curses come to Wei Chen easy as anything, easier even than to his successor, whose magic has more to do with control than anything else. Dark oaths spill from his mouth without thought, without end.

Ye Xiu brushes them away like they’re no more than crumbs left on the table. Chen Guo’s never seen someone with a command of magic like his.

 

Gao Yingjie doesn’t want his best friend to leave, doesn’t want to be apart for so long, doesn’t want to stop being teammates, being friends.

“Can we still talk, after you go?” he asks, after hours of building himself up to it.

“Of course!” Qiao Yifan says. He looks so warm. “You can call me any time.”

“No, I mean—” Gao Yingjie can’t help the flush. “A voice…across distance…like a proper connection…you don’t have to!” he immediately backpedals. As a witch, there were many kinds of spells he could put on people. This one, involving a tie between voice and hearts that would let them speak at any time they wanted, was a little embarrassing to place, and maybe more than Qiao Yifan would want from him, with him.

Qiao Yifan turns red too. He never could have imagined his friend thought so highly of him, but…if he was offering

He shows up to Happy Café, bolstered by his friend’s presence through their connection, even when they didn’t have anything in particular to say.

Ye Xiu’s eyes settle on his throat almost immediately. “Looks like somebody loves you,” he says with an edge of humor, and Qiao Yifan flushes all over again, hand clapping to his neck like he could still feel the imprint of lips there, even through the scarf.

 

Sun Xiang’s magic shoves into the game with the lack of finesse far more appropriate to a Brawler. Ye Xiu tears the connection between player and character to pieces, tells him to get a grip on his magic or give up gaming entirely.

“Battle Mages are still mages,” he says. “And ones that favor precision, at that, an ability to keep track of many variables at once. Why is your vision so narrow, that it only contains yourself? If you’re going to play like that, at the very least, go back to being a Berserker.”

Sun Xiang’s fingers hurt from how fast he’s moved, powerful magic snapping at their tips and knuckles, but he won’t give in. The next shock sends Evil Annihilation slamming into Lord Grim with a force like thunder.

“Fighter types can’t play?” he sends back mockingly. “Are you sure?”

Even without the timely punctuation, either One Autumn Leaf or the returned God Ye Qiu could have reminded viewers of Han Wenqing’s brutal style, a classic fighter-type that so often proved to rival the Battle God. Tyranny forcefully pushed through this season with him as their core, still more striking than even the return of Zhang Jiale’s far flashier dazzling effect to the stage. No one should dare to call magic like an assault weak.

“It’s not your magic that’s unsuited,” Ye Xiu tells him; Lord Grim is already behind One Autumn Leaf, distorted space eddying in his wake. “It’s you.”

 

Chen Guo overhears Su Mucheng telling Ye Xiu to give a blessing to something other than his hands at some point, and she thinks oh, angel, because demons were supposed to have lost the ability to bless as part of the fall.

Then she remembers this is Ye Xiu she’s thinking about; she amends the thought back to angel, maybe.

 

“You’re clearly of a life attribute, why did you ever give up on Qi Master?” Ye Xiu asks Fang Rui, genuinely baffled.

“I like playing like a Thief better,” Fang Rui says stubbornly. He puts the abundance of life energy into his hands instead, but he knows it’s a poor substitute. Too bad—no matter what his magic says, he’s nothing bright and noble.

“Then play a Qi Master like a Thief,” Ye Xiu says, sounding unreasonably exasperated.

Fang Rui pauses. “Huh.”

Put like that, it actually does seem rather obvious.

 

“Did you think I didn’t notice you, little spider?” Ye Xiu sends in the public chat, and Jiang Botao feels his blood go cold. He purposely never used a web against Ye Xiu before, when the man still played One Autumn Leaf, but in the years since he’s forgotten his caution. No one else has even suspected his ability, not even its existence, let alone picked it apart so fast.

“Do you think it’s wise, to leave your ties all over the place, where anyone could follow them back to you?”

Lord Grim appears before him like a nightmare, or karma.

 

Ye Xiu flicks between magic styles, focuses, spells no one’s even heard of before faster than anyone can track. Everyone knows why magic, such an integral part of one’s ability and daily life, is included in gaming, but for the first time it actually feels like a cheat.

“Are we sure he’s just an angel?” a pro finally asks. Miracles are one thing, but angels aren’t even a particularly strong race. Angels are usually healers.

“Part seer. I’ll bet drinks, let’s go.” It doesn’t take long for the speculation to start.

“Magician, come on, the signs are all there.”

“Beast child.”

“What, like their Brawler?”

Over the years, the Alliance has drifted in the direction of standard development of magic for gaming, but again and again, the best of them are those raised on their own, with their own methods in mind. Even Happy’s shadowstealer, new to the idea of competitive gaming entirely, has earned himself a personalized name for his play and the title God-Killer within a single season, using the kind of focused and particular style seen most in early-gen players and the golden generation they raised.

Happy stands at the summit of Glory, a band of specialists and exceptions and class changers that, nonetheless, radiate a single atmosphere of unity as if all cut from the same cloth, part of the same clan. Rather than pull them apart, their idiosyncrasies bring them together, here at the top—the joyful flourishing of passion, and magic, and change.